February 2014

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Throughout 2013 and part of 2014, I gave various versions of a talk entitled “The World is the Screen”. (The subtitle varied.)

The general contention of the talk: as planners and makers of digital things and places that are increasingly woven into the fabric of the world around us, we have to expand our focus to understanding the whole environment that people inhabit, not just specific devices and interfaces.

As part of that mission, we need to bring a more rigorous perspective to understanding our materials. Potters and masons and painters, as they mature in their work, come to understand their materials better and more deeply than they would expect the users of their creations to understand them. I argue that our primary material is information … but we don’t have a good, shared concept of what we mean when we say “information.”

Rather than trying to define information in just one way, I picked three major ways in which information affects our world, and the characteristics behind each of those modes. Ultimately, I’m trying to create some foundations for maturing how we understand our work, and how it is more about environments than objects (though objects are certainly critical in the context of the whole).

Anyway … the last version of the talk I gave was at ConveyUX in Seattle. It is a shorter version, but I think it’s the most concisely clear one. So I’m embedding it below. [Other, prior (and longer) versions are also on Speakerdeck – one from IA Summit 2013, and one from Blend Conference 2013. I also posted about it at The Understanding Group.]

I haven’t been inkblurting much here for a few months. There are a few reasons.

1. I’ve been writing and revising a book that I’ve been hammering away at for the last two years. I started writing it based on hunches about its subject, and vaguely literary aspirations of a “thought piece” sort of nonfiction tome that would be just so fascinating… only to discover that I really didn’t know what the hell I was writing about, and had to learn some actual science and stuff before I could say anything with any credibility. I mean, I’ve been doing information architecture and interaction design for a pretty long time, so I had that credibility, but when it comes to things like embodied cognition or how language works, well … it feels like I’ve been going back to grad school. But I’m glad I did the work, and it’s turning out nicely, at least from what I can tell from my bleary-eyed perspective, knotted like a homunculus in my digital bunker, gutting my overlong, meandering first draft, and wrangling what’s left into something I hope will do the job. Writing, man. Whaddya do?

2. I’ve also been posting the occasional bit over at the blog for my delightful employer, TUG (The Understanding Group). A few of them have included some thoughts on how no project is ever just what we see on its face, so we should design the “meta” side of the project as much as the thing the project is supposedly for. Another on how information architecture and business strategy have a long relationship, that’s becoming even more interdependent. And a couple of posts about stuff I presented at Midwest UX, including a workshop I co-led with colleague Dan Eizans, on Making Places with IA & Content Strategy, and my solo talk about maps and territories and how language creates places. I’m fairly obsessed with this whole language-as-infrastructure thing, which is leading me to also do a talk on that topic at IA Summit this March in San Diego.

3. Speaking of IA Summit, I’m proud and pleased to be co-teaching a new workshop there with the brilliant and wise Jorge Arango. It’s about Information Architecture Essentials, and proceeds will go to the Information Architecture Institute. We hope the content will be enlightening and useful, and a nice overview of some basic IA stuff, but also where IA is headed as a practice & discipline. We think old hands will get something out of it, not just newcomers. Fear not, although there will be “theory,” we’re packing it with practical goodness, and structuring it along a typical project timeline. Groundedness FTW.